For the last few years, I’ve added a Remembrance Project to my repertoire of reflection collections that I do for Lent (the Spring Cleaning of my Soul) and Advent (Preparing a place where Faith can Thrive). I do these projects to try to be a better person; to tread more gently and graciously through my life; to make good choices more often. I’m an RC kid, so the Lent and Advent projects are good candidates for helping me feel more… spiritual. More able to hear what’s left when there’s not so much noise.
Then, I decided to do the Remembrance project, which wasn’t so much about helping me make good choices, but understanding and appreciating the choices that other people made a century ago, a decade ago, last week, to serve in the Armed Forces. When Child was preparing to go to the celebration of the centenary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge, one of the assignments he had to complete posited the question, does Canada do a good job memorializing its veterans? As he wrote his assignment, I started paying attention myself. Surely we must, right? How could we not?
I thought about this as we wandered around Ottawa one weekend. Some memorials were subtle – the flags with poppies and Canadian battlegrounds on light posts throughout the downtown; small bronze memorial plaques in the downtown parks. Some were and overt – the looming National War Memorial; the Peace Tower; the massive National War Museum. There are 3 cenotaphs in Cambridge alone. There must be a balance of subtle and overt everywhere else, too, right? The Poppy Streets with local veterans’ names in many towns. The plaques of names in places like Galt Arena Gardens, or the Great War Memorial Hospital in Perth, or in the Eaton Center in Toronto.
This year, I’m not up to my elbows with cadet things surrounding Remembrance Day. I’m now a military mom, and no longer a cadet mom. The length and breadth of the thinkythoughts has expanded in interesting directions. I still want to share experiences and reflections on how good of a job I personally do (or don’t do) in memorializing veterans. Because how each of us does it bubbles up to how we want our communities to do it, and communities become regions, and regions become how the whole of Canada does it.
Real soon now, there will be a grassroots campaign to make Remembrance Day/November 11 a statutory holiday. Would that make us better at memorializing veterans, perhaps? In my early career, I worked at a company that also had an office in Nova Scotia, where November 11 is already a provincial holiday. So, in Ontario, we also got the day off.
I went to ceremonies because I was in the National Capital Region, and November 11 in Ottawa is a thing to behold. But of my dozens of coworkers who got the day off, there were only a handful who actually used the day as an opportunity to attend services. Maybe they had their own private reflection time. Maybe they watched CBC coverage. Maybe they visited a family member’s gravesite. But I doubt it. Even when November 11 has fallen on a weekend, there is not an appreciably larger crowd. I’ve attended in weather so biting that I regretted not having a proper hat on, and I’ve attended in weather so warm that I regretted having too many layers on. In years like the former, crowds are low. In years like the latter, crowds are bigger. The exception, of course, was 5 years ago (srsly, has it been 5 years already?) when Nathan Cirillo and Patrice Vincent died. That seemed to inspire people to think harder about remembrance day. The ultimate sacrifice can be paid holding vigil at the National War Memorial, or choking on mustard gas in St. Julien 100 years ago, or on a dusty road in Kandahar Province. Or, as it’s not lost on me, in a terror attack at the garrison where my own child now trains.
Still, whatever makes you feel inclined to remember, to be grateful for those who have served, and show support for those who still do serve, that’s a good reason. So, a writer writes. The Remembrance Project was born. Once again I’mma reflect on what it means to wear a poppy and visit a cenotaph or a memorial or attend a service. For the next fortnight (and a bit), I reflect on what it means to remember.